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An Otago Storeman in Solomon Islands

An Otago Storeman in Solomon Islands: The diary of William Crossan, copra trader, 1885-86 OPEN ACCESS

Tim Bayliss-Smith
Judith A. Bennett
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: ANU Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt24hb4r
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  • Book Info
    An Otago Storeman in Solomon Islands
    Book Description:

    An Otago Storeman in Solomon Islands reaches from inland South Island of New Zealand across to the Solomon Islands during the 1880s. William Crossan's Otago experience as a versatile storeman with a solid work ethic helped him survive on the Melanesian frontier where he encountered conflicting clans, cannibalism, cheating traders, and co-operative entrepreneurial big men. His diary provides many glimpses into Makiran society as it encountered new ideas, new employment, and western technology. It is a welcome addition to the sparse record of these cryptic copra traders seeking fortunes on the cusp of indigenous tradition and incoming colonialism.

    eISBN: 978-1-922144-21-8
    Subjects: History
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  1. In early September 1885 William Crossan from Otago Province in the South Island of New Zealand arrived at Makira in the Solomon Islands to begin a copra trading enterprise (Figure 1). He left there in early March, 1886, so his stay was a brief six months. He was one of several traders, mainly from Australia, the United States and New Zealand, who began to venture into the Western Pacific from the 1840s. They followed in the wake of itinerant American whalers who had revealed the range of tropical products of value to the West. The earliest traders sought profitable cargoes...

  2. William Crossan, né Moffatt, was born in Victoria, Australia in December 1861, the son of William and Elizabeth Moffatt.¹ Moffatt senior came from Breage, Cornwall in about 1854, just as mining industries there began to decline. In January 1861 in Melbourne he married Elizabeth Deacon who was born in Roseneath, Tasmania where her father was a shoemaker.² In May 1862, at age 29, Moffatt died of injuries after he fell down a quartz mine shaft at the mining settlement of Whroo, near Bendigo (formerly Sandhurst) in Victoria (Figure 2). Young William, only five months old, never knew his father but...

  3. William Crossan wrote his Solomon Islands diary while he was a resident for six months at Hada Bay. Hada is at the western end of the island then known as San Cristoval but today usually called Makira Island, in the south-east Solomons (Figure 1). The people living in this part of Makira now number about 7,000 and they speak the Arosi language, which gives its name to the whole district. Charles Fox, the Anglican missionary who lived at Pamua on the north coast from 1911-1924, described the area as follows:

    Arosi is not a very large district – about sixty...

  4. Crossanʹs dealings with his white colleagues (Baker, Darrack, Griffiths) are only hinted at in the Diary, but Johnstone, as Crossan calls Sono, is frequently mentioned and there developed a close if sometimes stormy relationship between the two men. We have some information about Sono from other sources. The Government Agent on Glencairn described him as ʹthe chief of the placeʹ and ʹa very decent sortʹ who spoke English well, having gone away as a boy with Bishop Selwyn of the Melanesian Mission.¹ Sono was one of those from Makira who had gone with Selwyn in the 1850s or early 1860s,...

  5. William Crossanʹs diary is to be found within a softbound notebook that also contains two photographs. One we presume is a portrait of the author (see Figure 2); another shows a worn copy of a group of Solomon Islanders and has the handwritten caption ʹNatives at Fatuaa 1889ʹ, being a studio portrait with set costume props. It may have been collected by Crossan as a souvenir (Figure 11).¹ These documents are all classified by the Hocken Library as follows: Hocken Library, Misc-MS-1224. WILLIAM J. CROSSAN, DIARY.

    The transcript that follows adopts all Crossanʹs abbreviations and eccentricities of spelling. The word...